“The Phantom of the Opera is my favorite opera,” is a phrase that many of my friends in the music department at my school throw around when jokingly imitating people who aren’t too familiar with either opera or musical theater. Fans tend to think of Phantom as an opera primarily because of the more classical technique used by singers, emphasizing high notes and long runs requiring a lot of flexibility (or the ability of the voice to move easily), which are elements not traditionally seen in popular musicals, such as Wicked and Rent. Although it may seem obvious to opera connoisseurs that Phantom is a musical (as it opened on Broadway, uses pop instruments, has spoken dialogue, and allows for a contemporary musical theater vocal technique), the structure of the musical itself is, indeed, very similar to that of an opera, though in a satiric way. I actually happened to see Phantom a couple of weeks ago at the Pantages in L.A. (which I highly recommend, if you have the chance to see it), so this entry will combine my observations with the insights of music scholars who have completed research on the work.
Most people would not even begin to put opera and rock in the same category, one with its bonnets, petticoats, and adherence to musical technique and conventions, and the other with its painted faces, outrageous hairdos, and free performance style. Yet, music scholars have argued otherwise. Both genres focus on the spectacle, or the idea of putting on a big show, topped with elaborate costumes and lighting effects. The singers of both genres of music generally tend to exhibit virtuosity, or vocal flexibility through their uses of runs, sustained (or held) notes, and leaps from one register in their voice to another. Additionally, both genres are known for their emphasis on the “high voice.” Read More »